THE scrutiny chairman at Bury Council has said a lack of channels for the public to ask questions at virtual meetings is concerning for local democracy.

Slamming the council’s online channels Cllr Robert Caserta told a meeting of the authority's overview and scrutiny committee ‘we need to have more public involvement’ after no public questions were presented.

He said: “This summer has been a saga of trying to promote this committee.

“I’ve tried since February to establish a virtual connection for the public with this committee to promote our availability.

“My efforts  have become quite forceful and even with the lockdown when it became even more necessary I’ve been unable to organise a virtual contact with the public

“I’ve still not been able to establish who’s got the keys to the Facebook account.

“We’ve arrived at this point and we’ve got no questions on the agenda from the public

“We are supposed to be the the eyes and ears for the Bury public.

“We here to ensure the taxpayers of Bury are getting value for money and question their leaders and officers and this is not happening.

“It’s quite lacking in our democratic services towards the public

“it’s getting to the point that even though were in the middle of a pandemic I will be writing to the chief executive.

“We need to have more public involvement.”

Committee member Cllr Jackie Harris agreed with the chair, saying she was ‘appalled’ that there was no public participation and also argued that meetings should be ‘back in the council chamber’.

She said: “Why can't we be now in the town hall?

“I presume there are  around 20 at this meeting., why can’t we be sitting in the council chamber.

“We could have members of the public in the gallery observing social distancing.

“We have calendar meetings in the diary to March next year.

“I don’t buy that its not allowed or dangerous.”

Cllr Clare Walsh told the meeting: "If we can work from home we should do to keep everyone safe." 

Janet Witkowski, deputy monitoring officer gave some legal advice to members who were discussing physical meetings.

She said: “The difficulty we’ve  got  from a legal standpoint is that the law in relation to most gatherings went to a maximum of six people.

“Legal advice made it clear council meetings are not classed as an exemption. We would be breaking the law.”

About the issue of public questions she added: “I do know that democratic services do put something on our web page to facilitate public questions but in fairness we have to look at this again.”